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For Europe: Finlandization’s Revenge or a Eurasian Identity?

1:42 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Another Europe, Another World

In 1989 my book Une autre Europe, un Autre Monde [Another Europe, Another World], was published in France by a small academic house, after being rejected by all the progressive publishers. It foresaw the reunification of Europe, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the rise of China (erroneously predicting greater democratization, however) and called for the creation of a Eurasian Community of Communities to include what I named before the fact as “a Europe of Thirty”, the Soviet Union, China, Japan and India, five giant entities that would balance each other out, eliminating the perceived need for Europe to be protected from the Russian Bear by the United States.

The book came out resolutely against then First Secretary Gorbatchev’s suggestion that not only the Soviet Union, but also the US and Japan, should be part of a large ‘European House’.

The URSS, a giant that reaches to the Pacific, is still not part of Peter the Great’s Europe, even though Russians are considered as Europeans in contrast to Asians and Muslims. But whether in Europe or Asia, the URSS is too large to be included in any group, too immense to be primus inter pares. Poland, Bulgaria and Romania today constitute Eastern Europe, while Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary make up Central Europe. To cling to the formula ‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’, which would make Russia its Eastern region, is not only outrageously ethnocentric, implying that Europe is white and Christian, it prevents us from building a credible European future.

Though today Gorbatchev’s vision is not mentioned in reference to Vladimir Putin’s project for a Eurasian Union, one cannot discuss the latter without referring to the former. Or rather, at the risk of appearing too pretentious as a woman who twice eschewed academic credentialization, one cannot discuss Putin’s dream without considering the message of ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’.

Regarding the Soviet Union, the French historian and founder of the Annals school Fernand Braudel wrote:

The destiny of this country which is located in the middle of the Eurasian landmass has been that of an immense frontier-zone between Europe, which it protects, and Asia, whose ever more brutal assaults fell upon it. Russia’s invaders – Mongols, Turks, Arabs – were nomads. Its merchants, city people, travelled the immense territory, but refrained from visiting its peoples. Thus, it is no surprise that while Westerners think that democracy equals the right to emigrate, the Russians, huddled together because of their geography, have always seen emigration as a betrayal.

I noted that “It took Levi’s, a non-violent invasion, to change that mentality”, and that “while so many changes are happening in the USSR, Europe remains attached to its old criteria, seen as immutable even in the space age, locating the European frontier at the Urals, a holdover from a time when Nation-states did not yet exist, but only peoples, when it was necessary, as Braudel wrote, ‘to separate light from darkness, barbarism from civilization, as peoples moved from East to West.’”

I held the first copy of my book on the day the Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989. Western Europe still consisted of only twelve countries and was called The Common Market. The latter chapters of the book proposed ways in which East and West could be reunited, forming a larger entity. Two of my neighbors in Paris at the time were a German-Italian couple, with whom I shared champagne that night, and they were sure I was being overly optimistic when I announced without the slightest hesitation that Germany would be reunited within a year. (It happened in October of 1990.)

Although my elaborate plan for a gradual building of confidence between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe had proved unnecessary, during that year I spoke out in EU meetings in Brussels for an accelerated entry of the newly independent countries into the European Union. French President Francois Mitterrand wanted the project put on the back burner, having also tried to delay the reunification of Germany, that country having invaded France three times in the last century. My book accused France of continuing to fear Germany while condemning it for what were at the time its pacifist policies vis a vis a Soviet Union, preventing Europe’s two largest countries from forming the center of a revitalized Europe and delaying its independence from the United States. Since the end of World War II, Washington had consistently portrayed the Soviet Union as an existential threat to Europe, falling back on Finlandization (a soft, economic takeover), when predictions of Russian tanks rolling unopposed across the European plain failed to be taken seriously in the face of NATO’s massive buildup. Read the rest of this entry →

Ukraine’s Hissy Fit

8:57 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

 

The country that used to be the breadbasket of Europe is a new bone of contention between the European Union and Russia. Ukraine, the land of the southern Russians (as Yugoslavia was the land of the southern Slavs), sits on Russia’s Western frontier.

According to one RT commentator, the Poles and Lithuanians are pushing Brussels to bring Ukraine into the European fold. Although they have old scores to settle, these pale in comparison to a shared desire to cock a snoot at Russia in retaliation for a historical pattern of domination.

It is difficult for Westerners to understand why any country would want to join a European Union that is currently experiencing so many problems. In fact, this is a totally irrational desire: the Orthodox former Soviet Republics, whether it be Bela Rus, Ukraine or Georgia, are obsessed with not wanting to be identified with historically backward or Communist Russia. Notwithstanding their own backwardness they want to  be considered part of the culturally superior West.  Having lived in Eastern Europe for six years when it was still part of the Soviet Empire, I can testify that it is impossible to overestimate this longing.  When I worked at the Hungarian Radio, lack of recognition that together with Poland and Czechoslovakia it was indeed part of Europe was expressed as: ‘They think we still cook meat under the saddle.’  Of all the countries of the East European block, Hungary most actively strove to play the role of bridge between East and West. Its efforts culminated in the opening of its frontier with Austria starting in May 1989 that allowed thousands of East German tourists to reach the West. A previously unthinkable act, it led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November and the dissolution of the Soviet block.

But Bela Rus, Ukraine and Georgia have far less of a claim to a European identity than the Eastern European satellite nations. In the Middle Ages, Bela Rus, Ukraine and Russia were all part of the principality of Kiev, or Kievan Rus, which extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. While all three countries claim Kievan Rus as their cultural heritage, today independent Bela Rus and Ukraine constitute a sort of no-man’s land that buffers their vast and powerful neighbor.  As of 2011, Ukraine was the world’s third-largest grain exporter, and according to Wikipedia, it is one of ten most attractive agricultural regions. Although regarded as a developing economy with high potential, indispensable economic and legal reforms would be more brutally implemented under Brussels tutelage than if they happened at Ukraine’s own pace.

And yet, for western Ukrainians, (as opposed to the pro-Russian eastern half), the fact that Brussels cannot afford to bring them up to speed economically is obviously less important than being part of glamorous, sophisticated Europe.  They probably feel that they are well-acquainted with hardship, but the demonstrators in Kiev should ask themselves whether they would they be happy in a European Union that is being forced to walk back its welfare state?

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